Pioneers saved from closure as members dig deep in cash appeal
THE Pioneer Association has been saved from almost-certain closure, after thousands of generous teetotallers responded to a last-ditch appeal and donated more than €150,000.
Chiefs of the ailing organisation -- the full title of which is the Pioneer Total Abstinence Organisation (PTAA) -- admitted last April they didn't expect to survive until Christmas due to a chronic lack of funds and a mounting six-figure debt.
They were forced to issue an urgent appeal to their estimated 200,000 members, pleading with them to dig deep in their pockets to help plug the hole in their €100,000 deficit.
But yesterday Pioneer chief Padraig Brady said the temperance group would be around "for at least another 10 years", after generous donations boosted their finances to €50,000 in the black.
Mr Brady said, but for the response to the appeal, the first in the organisation's 104-year history, the country's pioneer centres would have closed their doors for the final time by Christmas. He said the six-figure deficit, added to a huge decline in the group's Pioneer magazine's circulation, made the future of the still hugely-influential association untenable.
But he said yesterday: "Our future now looks very bright and we're here to stay, I'm delighted to say.
"We issued an appeal to our members and to the Irish public and they responded brilliantly. We were in trouble and I really feared that we wouldn't be able to carry on.
"It forced our hand, because it was the first time in the association's history that we had ever put out an appeal.
"Thankfully the response was fantastic, particularly when you take into account so many people are suffering financially themselves from the recession. But thankfully, I'm now able to assure everyone we're not going anywhere."
However, Mr Brady admitted that the organisation, which relies on public donations for its survival, will be forced to make further sacrifices and cutbacks in order to secure its long-term future.
"We've our AGM coming up in a couple of weeks and we'll be looking to trim down our running costs as much as possible, which we have to do to survive."
The Pioneers say their mission -- to address the problems in society caused by excessive alcohol consumption and drug usage through prayer, faith and self-denial -- is more relevant than ever in modern-day Ireland.
Founded in 1898 by Jesuit priest Fr James Cullen, the iconic Pioneer Pin soon became a ubiquitous symbol of teetotalism, set against an alcohol-fuelled culture.
Successive surveys have found that around 20pc, or one in five, of Irish people describe themselves as non-drinkers -- the highest in Europe.
But those statistics are overshadowed by the amount of booze knocked back by the non-teetotallers, which again tops the list of European countries.
According to recent figures, the average Irish person aged over 15 knocked back 11.9 litres of pure alcohol in 2010.
That's the equivalent of 44 bottles of vodka, 470 pints or 124 bottles of wine in the space of just 12 months.